A BIRTHDAY ROAD TRIP

In 2007, the movie Into the Wild was released and became an instant favorite of mine. It was the first place I ever saw Salvation Mountain: a giant, colorful, sculpture-like work of folk art in the middle of the desert. I’ve been trying to see it in person ever since, but the timing hasn’t quite worked out. Until now!

We spent my birthday driving out to the mountain, taking in the totally surreal, slightly absurd beauty of it, and then making the trek home. Ruby came too! Despite the awful weather (100 + degrees), we had a very successful outing that resulted in the photos below and a sleepy puppy who snored on my lap the entire drive home.

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Selfie game, strong.

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Obviously there is a lot of religious imagery here, and I’m not a terribly religious person. What I like about Salvation Mountain is the message of love. For Leonard Knight (the man who spent years building the mountain out of adobe clay, straw, and lead free paint) the idea of spreading love and beauty is tied very closely to God, but for me it was more about experiencing the creative spirit of the place, rather than the religious spirit.

Huge thanks to other M for making the trek, putting up with me all weekend, and helping me FINALLY cross this trip off my bucket list!

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RUBY (YEAR 3)

It honestly feels like we’ve been living as a threesome forever, but the calendar says it’s only been 3 years so I guess we’ll go with that.

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Every year on Ruby’s birthday/adoption day, I take a moment to acknowledge how important animal rescue is to me. It literally changed my life and it changed Ruby’s too. This year especially, we kept hearing the same thing from friends and family:

“She’s a different dog.”

“She’s so calm and happy.”

“She looks really healthy and young.”

I cannot emphasize enough how good it feels to watch her blossom every day. To know that we took in a lost, fearful little dog and helped her make the face below on a daily basis. You can read more about Ruby’s adoption story here and here.

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This was our toughest, most confusing, and most rewarding year yet.

Ruby has always had a little trouble in social situations. She does ok with small dogs, but is usually reactive towards larger dogs and she has a hard time with new people, especially with new people who make direct eye contact. She hates the mailman, and she doesn’t tolerate guests in our house or on our property. She goes straight into defense mode – howls, barks, growls, lunges, you name it. But she has always been sweet, silly, and loving with the two of us. With one exception.

She is EXTREMELY reactive when she falls asleep. If we accidentally brush against the blanket she’s sleeping on, it scares her so much she goes from passed out to full aggressive rage in the blink of an eye. For a long time, we just avoided touching her or being near her if she was resting, but it was difficult because she is so affectionate with us, and we don’t want to deny her affection if she’s asking for it. She WANTS to come sleep next to you, she WANTS to snuggle up under the covers with you.

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This issue has been getting progressively more serious and more stressful over the last couple years. It eventually reached the point where, after coming up to snuggle in bed, she snapped at me while I was still half asleep, started yanking on a mouthful of my hair, and left several scratch marks on my neck and ears. I called my mom sobbing after that morning because I was so afraid that the only solution was going to be to put her down. But something inside me said that wasn’t the answer.

I want to be very clear: 95% of the time, Ruby is exactly like every other sweet, well behaved, playful dog. She loves to go for walks, learn new tricks, and is incredibly smart and expressive. Other people don’t get to see that side of her because she can’t be around them. If friends are at the house we put her in the bedroom to avoid conflict and keep her stress levels down, and she can’t handle being in crowded public spaces like restaurants or parties. It’s really upsetting for me to think about the animated little beagle that I know and love, and to realize that other people don’t know that side of her exists. I want to make sure I’m not portraying her as a monster. She is an absolute delight who has a couple issues to work on, and I love her more than anything in the world.

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We had worked with a trainer during our first year together and contacted her for some advice. She thought we might benefit from seeing an animal behaviorist, and passed along the contact info for the VCA in West Los Angeles.

An animal behaviorist is essentially a psychiatrist for pets. They study the behavior of animals and diagnose and treat behavior problems with modification training, lifestyle changes, medication, or a combination. I know, it sounds silly to take your dog to see a psychiatrist and I was feeling a little skeptical in the beginning, but I had also run out of other options.

For those of you who have never been to a behaviorist, let me break down our visit for you:

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At this point, all we felt was relief. We had been concerned about territorial aggression and other scenarios where we just didn’t know what the outcome would be. An anxiety diagnosis was the last thing we were expecting, but it made perfect sense once they explained why. From there, we were given a number of handouts outlining different behavior modification training techniques, and we spent a little time practicing them in the room with the doctors.

They also recommended that Ruby start taking fluoxetine, which is the equivalent of a Prozac type medication. People have lots of different opinions about medicating for mental health, but we decided to give it a try. The doctors explained to us that the medication was really a tool used to supplement the behavior training – it would help Ruby relax and keep her from going to a place of extreme anxiety while we showed her other, better ways to respond to situations that make her uncomfortable. They even said that some dogs start by taking the medication and are eventually weened off it because they don’t need it anymore.

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Before we went to see the behaviorist, I kept a log in my phone of every time we had an “incident” with Ruby. I detailed the time of day, what happened just before and after, and any other details I could think to add. We were averaging 1 to 2 incidents per month. Since leaving the VCA that day, we have had ZERO incidents. IT’S BEEN 9 MONTHS.

Maybe the most important thing we left the VCA with was a better understanding of our own dog. Now, when I see her exhibiting certain behaviors, I know she’s feeling anxious and I have the tools to help her relax. Whether that means asking her to go lie down, focus on me, or just removing her from the situation entirely. I think she can feel that understanding too, she knows we’re making an effort to keep her safe and happy and because of that, she feels more at ease. It’s a circle of good vibes, you guys.

There is a stigma about rescue dogs that I think keeps a lot of people from adopting them. The idea that they’re “damaged goods,” or “have issues.” My response to that is: I have one of those dogs that you’re afraid of. I let her into my home, made a sincere effort to understand her, and have done everything I possibly could to help her succeed. And guess what? She IS succeeding. With a little effort, she is living the same happy, healthy life that your dog is.

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If you have a pet who is exhibiting some of the behaviors I’ve described and want someone to talk to, please get in touch with me (click contact above)! I know how stressful it is and I’d be happy to chat, offer advice, or put you in touch with the trainers and behaviorists we saw. Just please don’t give up on your pet. In all likelihood, this is the moment when they need you the most.

So happy birthday to Ruby, the best part of my day, everyday.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Happy (day after) Halloween! Last year, we dressed up as Elliot and Gertie from E.T. which was awesome, but definitely landed in the cute column instead of the scary column. So this year we decided to make up for it a little bit…

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We both went as scary skeletons and built an entire cemetery in our front yard (complete with political pumpkin)! I tend to gravitate toward costumes that involve some interesting hair and/or makeup. It’s probably because they give me a real life, 3-D canvas to work with instead of just a sheet of paper.

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I wanted to sit in the cemetery (see below) and scare the teenagers who came by, but we mostly got little kids so I tried not to be TOO spooky.

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We also hosted a zombie apocalypse themed scavenger hunt/party over the weekend, but didn’t get many photos. It’s too bad because we had some great costumes! Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde from Zootopia, Frankenstein and his Bride, Vacationers, Buffy as Little Red Riding Hood, a Jackelope, The Most Interesting Man in the World…the list goes on!

What did you do for Halloween this year?

 

NEW BACKYARD MURAL

When we moved into our house, it came with a big blank wall on one side of the garage. Originally, we painted a geometric pattern on it but after two years I was ready for something new. I got it into my head that I would repaint the wall, but I didn’t know what I wanted to paint yet. This story is going to seem long and rambling for a minute, but I promise it all ties together and comes back around to the mural at the end.

Fast forward a few months and we decided to re-decorate our living room. It was full of bulky black shelves (that house the hundreds and hundreds of vinyl albums other M collects) and made the already tiny room feel smaller and darker than it was.

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So we ditched the dark stuff and went bright and clean. Suddenly, we found ourselves with a lot of wall space and nothing to cover it. The obvious solution: a gallery wall!

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We promptly filled it with an art print of “The Hound” from Ikea, two photos by Mary Costa Photography, one of the pieces from my collaboration with Sugar & Cloth, a custom Dance Yrself Clean print (that we made together), and a piece of artwork that came with The National’s album “Trouble Will Find Me.” But we still had one big space left above the TV.

Because buying and building new furniture, figuring out what to fill a gallery wall with, and sort of planning to re-paint a 28′ x 8′ wall wasn’t enough, we were also on the hunt for new couch pillows. Adulting 101: they get kind of gross after a couple years and even the washing machine can’t save you if you haven’t been proactive about cleaning them.

I had a LOT of trouble finding pillows I liked. I don’t know why. I’m not particularly difficult about throw pillows, there just didn’t seem to be a lot out there. Until Oh Joy! announced their fall 2016 collection for Target that included this amazing find:

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BINGO. Done and done. Then it came to me:

Paint the mural the same colors as the pillows.

Take a family photo in front of the mural.

Enlarge the the photo, frame it, and hang it in the empty space in the gallery wall.

The colors in the photo will match the throw pillows on the couch, and everything will have subtle cohesive undertones. GENIUS.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Sugar & Cloth posted a call for wall space to create color walls in different U.S. cities. They have their own mural in Houston, The Sugar and Cloth Color Wall, and it’s incredible. Simple, but so fun and versatile! I offered up my garage, but they needed spaces that are accessible to the public and our wall is not. The color wall stuck with me though, and I ended up creating a variation of it anyway. And finally, the reveal!

 

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Pillow by Oh Joy! for Target.

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A new mural, a new living room, and a new appreciation for how long it takes to paint some simple stripes. Now who wants to come over and take pictures!?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RUBY (Year 2)

It’s Ruby’s birthday/adoption anniversary! We’ve had her for 2 years, so to celebrate we snapped some pics in front of our new backyard mural (more on that later) and are giving her a big doggy birthday treat. Happy birthday love bug! To read more about Ruby’s adoption story, see this post from last year.

Animal rescue is a cause that I care a lot about. It breaks my heart to think about all the pets who, by no fault of their own, were lost, abandoned, or worse, only to end up in a rescue or shelter potentially at risk of being killed. Why should they have to pay the ultimate price for the bad behavior and irresponsibility displayed by humans? I’ve accepted that I can’t change other people’s behavior, but I can do some small things to help correct it. One of those things is adopting animals instead of purchasing from a breeder, pet store, or puppy mill and another is vocally supporting the cause when I’m able to. Ruby’s birthday is one of those times.

We don’t know much about Ruby’s life before she came to us, but I can tell you that (while she certainly has her challenges) she is a happy, healthy, sweetheart of a dog and it kills me a little to think that someone else didn’t want her or couldn’t take care of her. Look at that face!

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Happy 8th(ish) birthday snugglebug, here’s to many more!

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Happy new year!

Here’s what been happening in my world lately:

  1. Artist in Residence pieces for Joie de Vivre Hotels! I created a retro-inspired print for Hotel Del Sol, and painted some cherry blossoms for Hotel Kabuki. See the full posts and interviews with me on Joyride.

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2.) An illustration I created for Jen Pinkston was featured on her blog, The Effortless Chic. You can see the full post right here.

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3.) I’m working a LOT of new pieces for the shop including more temp tattoos (pizza and sushi!), maps, and other goodies. I posted a couple peeks on Instagram, but in case you missed them:

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That should bring you up to speed! I’ll leave you with this quick fashion illustration I did last week.

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Happy Monday and happy 2016!

This Week: Happy Halloween!

Instead of showing you what I’ve been working on, I want to do something more spirited to celebrate my favorite holiday. IT’S HALLOWEEN! So let’s look at some costumes from the distant and recent past. First, the classics:

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That’s my dad in the middle. The headless one. Thank God that that gene didn’t get passed down, amiright? My head is firmly attached and painted like a pumpkin.

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Sibling dinos!

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Still have that hat somewhere. I only wear it when casting spells, obviously. That hair though!

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Are there any 90’s kids who weren’t Power Rangers for Halloween at some point?

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I end up in zombie makeup pretty much every Halloween and I love it. (Above two photos by Mary Costa Photography. Photo below for Garlic, My Soul.)

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Hot Dog Vendors

Last year was our first Halloween with Ruby and her Uncle George got her a hot dog suit! We went as her hot dog vendors, naturally. (Photo by Mary Costa Photography.)

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I went a little creepier for the trick-or-treaters last year. There’s something about a costume that requires full face make-up that I just cant’t get enough of.

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And that brings us to this year! (Above photo by Mary Costa Photography.) Elliot, Gertie, and E.T. wish you the happiest, spookiest, most wonderful Halloween of all time! Have a great scary weekend!

 

 

Happy Birthday Ruby

Today is Ruby’s birthday! Well, technically we don’t know when her birthday is because we adopted her. Today is her adoption day, and marks our first full year with this furry little nugget! It’s a pretty special day and certainly gives cause for celebration.

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Ruby is a beagle, approximately 7 years old. I think we can all agree that beagles are generally pretty cute, but she’s extra special for a few reasons: she’s bi-colored (brown and white only, no black!), and she’s got little brown speckles on her nose and legs. My dog has freckles you guys. She’s so cute I could die.

Ruby is my best pal. She’s my snuggle buddy, my exercise companion, and my favorite goofball. She’s smart, funny, and sweet. She teaches me patience, kindness, joy, and love. But this year hasn’t always been easy.

For those who don’t know, our journey to Ruby started with another dog: Alexander the Great.

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When we moved into our house, I immediately started looking at rescue websites. It was important to me that we rescue a dog. It’s a cause that I believe in, and felt strongly I should support. More importantly, (as my mother would say) it’s just the right thing to do. Please remember that when and if you consider becoming a fur-parent.

We found Alex at Life4Paws Rescue through Petfinder and made an appointment to go meet him. A clumsy little shepherd mix waddled into the room, tripping over his massive paws, looking curiously at us with soft, kind eyes. He was only a few months old, but already more than 30 pounds. This fella was going to be huge. We sat on the floor with him. He cautiously climbed into my lap and fell asleep in a terribly awkward but ridiculously adorable position. We fell in love instantly and a few days later he came home with us.

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Alex had lived the first few months of his life in someone’s backyard, completely neglected. The conditions were so poor that he developed parvovirus, a highly contagious and life-threatening disease. In untreated puppies, the fatality rate can exceed 90%. It was a literal miracle that he had been rescued, treated, and survived.

The tricky thing about a puppy that has been treated for parvo is that their immune system is sensitive. They need to be closely monitored to insure is isn’t compromised. Their contact with other dogs, humans, and the outside world should be extremely limited so they aren’t accidentally exposed to disease. Alex was at the beginning of this process when we adopted him. It turned out to be a little more than we could handle.

Because he was young, he had a lot of energy. Because he was big (and getting bigger every day), he needed space to expend that energy. Because he couldn’t go for walks or hikes or even be in our backyard for prolonged periods of time, he became restless. And because our house is small, it became a safety issue for both him and us. I don’t blame Alex, he was doing the best he could under the conditions. But frankly, we were not equipped to handle him under those circumstances. We brought him back to Life4Paws with the intention of re-adopting him once he had fully recovered, but someone else scooped him up not long after. He was a sweet, adorable puppy after all, and I’m glad he found a home that was better suited to his needs. We saw a picture of him a few months later and he was literally the largest dog I have ever seen.

After that, the other M and I continued to visit Life4Paws a few times a week as volunteers. We still wanted to adopt, but were in no rush. We didn’t want to put ourselves or another dog through the emotional turmoil of being returned. Then…

Ruby showed up.

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(Above photo by Faith Michele Photography, August 2014.)

I had gone on my own that afternoon. As soon as I walked in they said “We got a new dog! A beagle!” My jaw dropped. The other M loves beagles. He had been begging me to get one since we started our search. I texted him a photo of the (then unnamed) beagle and he responded “OH. MY. GOD.”

Ruby came to Life4Paws through the vet they work with (the details are a little unclear).  After she was given a clean bill of health, they dropped her off with the rescue. There was a pink, bone-shaped tag dangling from her collar that read “Princess Coco” (a name she has never responded to, despite us still occasionally calling her that). The phone number listed had been disconnected. She was microchipped, but the address associated with that chip was in New Jersey.

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Over the next few weeks, we continued to stop by and walk the dogs, Ruby included, while they attempted to locate her owner. No one ever came forward. She was dreadfully overweight and moved incredibly slow. She had a large bald spot near her tail where she scratched herself so much the fur had fallen out and the skin was irritated. She couldn’t take more than a few steps without reverse-sneezing. Her eyes were wide and often bloodshot. But she was so sweet, and so affectionate…that is my favorite thing about dogs. They can go through something terrible; abandonment, being lost or mistreated, but at their core they still just want to love someone be loved in return. We offered to foster her.

Two weeks later, we adopted her officially. (Cue butt snuggling montage!)

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After only a short time in our home, her skin healed, her fur grew back, she was losing weight steadily, and had so much more energy. Her eyes were bright, clear, and relaxed, and her snorting had almost stopped entirely. She had become a totally different dog, in the best way possible. I don’t know if dogs are capable of feeling an emotion as complex as gratitude, but that’s certainly what it felt like to me. She seemed so grateful to be with us. This is why rescuing is so important. Don’t judge the scared, weird-looking shelter dog right away. Underneath that bald, patchy coat is a warm, devoted companion waiting to go home with you.

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Here she is on our first Halloween together, in 2014. Please note how much healthier she looks after only 2 months with us. (Photo by Mary Costa Photography.)

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She’s a loud mouth (most beagles are), but we love her anyway. She has lots of funny little quirks like burying her nose when she sleeps, wiggling her whole butt when she’s excited, and curling up in the space behind our legs while we lie on the couch. She’s so, so smart and has figured out a (very complex) route to the top of the kitchen table and countertops. Though once she gets up there she can’t get down, and just waits patiently for someone to come get her.

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Ruby is the third lovable little member of our family, and the first dog both of us have owned as independent adults. She is such a special girl, and I can honestly say that her presence has enriched every other part of my life. It melts my heart to know that she loves and trusts us, and because of that love and trust, she was able to blossom into a happy, healthy dog living a full life, despite whatever happened in her past. We did that for her. And she returns the favor every day.

Happy Adoption Day/Birthday Ruby. We love ya, snugglebug. There’s a nice big bone with your name on it waiting for you on the kitchen counter. You’re probably already up there eating it.

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This Week: Illustrated Biography

I made something awesome this week. I might be biased though, because it’s all about me. 😀

I created an illustrated biography of my adventures thus far – I thought it would be good to have on hand for interviews and other job obtaining activities. If my resume is the professional version of myself, this is definitely the personal version. Filled with fun facts to help you get to know me a little better!

(click to enlarge)

 

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So what do you think? Would you hire me?

Happy Friday!

Ana and Eric’s Wedding

PHEW! We survived our double wedding weekend!

Since I’m still alive, I thought I’d share some of the pieces I helped create for Ana and Eric’s celebration this past Saturday. It was a beautiful day, fit for two beautiful friends! Ana was kind enough to think of me during the planning process, and we worked together to create their seating chart, bar sign, ceremony program, reception program, and the “sign our guestbook” poster. (Some text and names have been removed from the images below, to protect the privacy of those involved.)

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They even had a cute little crossword puzzle inside their reception programs! The clues and answers all had to do with their relationship. We put the dinner menu and special thank-you’s on the outside (pictured below).

 

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There you have it! A big, heartfelt congratulations to Ana and Eric! I hope you both enjoyed your day as much as I did. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of it.

MandM Weddings